For years, I denied my bisexuality, hiding behind the veil of my hetero marriage, but as I get more comfortable owning and being proud of my sexuality, I’m able to see myself in queer history and the plight of biphobia and bi erasure.
As with the rest of the queer civil rights movement, bisexual political activism began to flourish in the 1960s, especially after the Stonewall Riots, when bisexual activist Brenda Howard coordinated a march to commemorate the anniversary, beginning the tradition of annual pride parades.
When I learned that a bisexual woman was behind such immense change for the entire queer community, I dove deeper to learn more about the efforts that led to the freedom of expression I get to experience today.
In 1972, the National Bisexual Liberation Group was founded and issued the first bisexual newsletter, The Bisexual Expression. That same year, a Quaker group, the Committee of Friends on Bisexuality, issued the “Ithaca Statement on Bisexuality” supporting bisexuals. It was the first statement on bisexuality issued by an American religious assembly, and it appeared in the Quaker Friends Journal and The Advocate.
The 70s also saw the opening of the San Francisco Bisexual Center in 1975—the longest-surviving bisexual community center. It was this center that helped coordinate a response—with lesbian activists Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, and pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock in 1977—when Anita Bryant launched a national anti-LGBTQ campaign in response to the first successful gay rights ordinance (co-authored by bisexual Alan Rockway).
In the 1980s, bisexual women began to organize spaces for themselves, such as the Boston Bisexual Women’s Network, which is still active today and publishes the quarterly newsletter Bi Women, the longest-running newseletter for bisexual women. That same year, BiPOL, the first bisexual political organization, was founded in San Francisco, which went on to sponsor the first Bisexual Rights Rally that took place outside the 1984 Democratic National Convention.
With the onset of the AIDS epidemic, bisexuals were often unfairly blamed for spreading AIDS to their partners.
Newsweek’s 1987 issue even portrayed bisexual men as “the ultimate pariahs” of the AIDS epidemic. That same year, the March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights saw the first nationwide bisexual gathering, where a group of 75 bisexuals gathered to march. The article “The Bisexual Movement: Are We Visible Yet?” by Lani Ka’ahumanu, appeared in the official Civil Disobedience Handbook for the March. By 1993, over 1,000 bisexuals marched in the even more inclusive March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation.
When I read about these landmark moments in history, I’m overcome with an awareness of privilege. Until writing this, I hadn’t considered the efforts of bisexual trailblazers like Howard, Rockway, or Ka’ahumanu. I’ve hidden behind my straight-appearing identity at a time when coming out is far less risky than it was for them. I feel called-out for hiding for so long, but in a way that inspires me to further educate myself and to be more outspoken about where I fit into the spectrum of sexuality.
Other bisexual trailblazers include Wendy Curry, Michael Page, and Gigi Raven Wilbur, who formed the Celebrate Bisexual Day in 1999, also referred to as Bi Visibility Day, which continues to be celebrated every September 23. It was Wilbur who realized there must be bisexuals all over the world feeling isolated and invisible, who were tired of bi erasure and biphobia and wanted a way to send a message that they exist. Michael Page is also the person responsible for designing the bisexual Pride flag, unveiled in 1998.
Since coming out two years ago, I’ve become aware of the biases against bisexuals, even within the queer community: that we can’t make up our minds, that we’re greedy. We want to have our cake and eat it too. These messages are the stuff of continued biphobia (and panphobia), and they don’t help in uniting our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and nonbinary folk. It’s important that we take into consideration the plight of everyone on the queer spectrum.
In 2011, a report on bisexual visibility—“Bisexual Invisibility: Impacts and Regulations”—was released by San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission, making it the first time any government body released such a report.
The report showed that self-identified bisexuals made up the largest single population within the LGBTQ community in the United States.
Today, more and more people are coming out as bisexual, especially as ethical non-monogamy is making a rise and becoming more accepted in the larger community. Partnered men and women are allowing themselves for the first time to explore the sides of their sexuality that they’ve kept hidden while still maintaining loving, long-term relationships.
In the words of present-day bi advocate Robyn Ochs, “I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted—romantically and/or sexually—to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”
Thank you to those who’ve paved the way to make the bisexual community visible. We’ve come a long way.